Grimme was in a terribly good mood. No, Brìghde had not supped with him and so his welcome-home supper was a bit dampened by her absence, but he was so happy his father had taken to her so quickly and easily that he was jubilant anyway.
He made his way up to the third floor and walked into Emelisse’s chambers to find her in the bath, her maidservant washing her hair.
“Leave me,” she said in French.
“I have been gone three weeks,” Grimme said testily, immediately irritated. “Could you not be a little more welcoming?”
“After you brought home a wife?” she snapped. “When you should have married me?”
Grimme’s good humor began to fade, but he shouldn’t be surprised at her anger. Aye, his trip to Scotland had been met with a slight problem, but he’d expected resistance and had gone prepared. That he had not had to use any had pleased him. Abduct bride. Marry her himself. Be upon his way. Very simple, all according to plan. No, he had not snatched Lady Margaret, but God had saved Grimme from his own stupidity and directed him to snatch the right woman after all. He was pleased with his new bride and though he was glad to be home, he had enjoyed their journey immensely.
Only God could have planned something so perfect.
“You knew this day would come, yet here I am here with you. Nothing has changed.”
“Nothing has changed?!” she screeched. “Nothing has changed but that there is another woman in the house—”
“Whom I will not be bedding until I must.”
“—for whom you put me out of my rightful place at your side! And then she did not even bother to appear for supper to sit there!”
“’Twas never your rightful place and you knew I was going to bring home a wife. What did you expect?”
“I expected her to be bound and gagged and locked in a chamber at the top of a tower.”
He shrugged his concession. “So did I, but isn’t it fortunate for all of us that she needs us as much as we need her?”
“We,” she growled, “don’t need her.”
“You do understand that if Sheffield killed me before I wed, you would have had nowhere to go and no coin to get there, do you not? If he hadn’t killed you too.”
“You should have wed me!” she screamed.
There were many reasons he would never have wed Emelisse, none of which he felt like enumerating. “I needed a noblewoman.”
“You didn’t need one,” she retorted. “You wanted one.”
“I’m an earl,” he said flatly. “Henry would expect me to wed according to my station. What if she looked like you?”
That made her pause. “She doesn’t.”
“Mayhap you should be grateful, as if she did, I would have fucked her before the ink was dry and I would have taken her straight to bed as soon as we arrived home and I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”
She snarled at him. “I also did not expect that you would make her castellain. I hope you do not expect me to obey her every command.”
Grimme scowled in confusion. “What commands could she possibly need to give you?”
“Any command Sir John feels free to give me now.”
“Which you do not obey, so … ?”
That calmed her a bit. “What chambers did you put her in?” she mumbled.
“The ones across from me.”
She gasped in horror. “You didn’t!”
“I did,” he returned blithely.
Grimme and Emelisse had had their fallings out before, when she expected him to obey as if she were his mother. It was a hazard of bedding a woman five years older than he when he was barely fifteen and growing into his manhood on the battlefield and the lists. He couldn’t tolerate her overbearing nature, but in the end, he always came back to Emelisse.
Tears sparkled in her eyes. “Did you do that on purpose?” she croaked. “To hurt me?”
“The things I do might hurt you,” he returned, “but I have never done them for the purpose of hurting you.”
“When you know what hurts me and you keep doing those things, then you are doing them to hurt me.”
“Emelisse,” he said firmly, “we have been together for eleven years. You know my habits and you know I am not going to change. I am home now. There is a wife somewhere in this keep, but I know not where because I am with you, my lover. Do you want me to come to you tonight or not?”
She sniffled, then muttered, “Oui.”
• • •
Brìghde opened her chamber door very late that night after having sat with the earl at table and watched the after-supper amusements. His second-in-command was on his right and they were trading jests, trying to out-do each other, getting more and more vulgar as the night went on.
She didn’t mind. Which jests she understood, in both English and French, were funny. The ones she didn’t ken used Sassenach words that had other meanings she did not know.
No one else spoke to her; indeed, no one else noticed her. The mistresses had been nowhere in sight when she left Sir John, so she had slipped into the chair to the left of the earl, where the lady of the manor should normally sit.
When she could no longer keep her eyes open, she had requested excusal and the earl had bid her a quick but hearty good eve over his shoulder so he could go back to his conversation.
Thus, here she stood, still dressed in a peasant boy’s clothes, alone in a close, dark, cold keep in an inadequately lit hall with her meager possessions in her hand, looking into a vast nothingness. She trudged down to the farthest end of the hall and counted six doors not including hers and the earl’s. She snatched the last torch and returned to her chambers.
The chamber was large, but not as large as hers at Fàileach. There was a massive four-poster bed along one wall, but it looked like it would collapse any second. At least it had linens on it.
There was a man-sized hearth in the corner of the room, but there was no fire, no wood laid, no wood in the chambers at all, and no chairs in front of it. In fact, she saw now, the bed was the only furniture in the room. There was no place to put candles, so there were none of those, either.
There were two large diamond-mullioned windows that had no drapes. There were no tapestries on the walls. There were no rugs covering the stone floor. There were no hangings on the bed.
She took the torch into the antechamber. There was no bed for a chambermaid, no chests, no bathtub, no water pitcher and basin. She went to the garderobe. At least it did not stink.
She sighed and dropped her face in her hand.
No one had curtsied or bowed to her when she came in as the new countess. The villeins and servants had ignored her. The groom felt free to chastise her for riding a horse too big for her. The servants had not been gathered and introduced to her. Chambers should have already been prepared for any bride’s arrival, but not only had that not been done, the earl’s explicit order to do so had been completely ignored.
No one had taken her things from her to place them in the chambers if they had been prepared. Not even Sir John noticed she had her possessions with her.
Aye, this household was a complete and utter disaster.
Dispirited, she decided to go to sleep and start fresh in daylight. She threw back the linens to find there were no sheets, no blankets, and no pillows. Just one thin coverlet.
“It’s not Roger MacFhionnlaigh,” she whispered to herself, near tears. “It’s not Roger MacFhionnlaigh.”
She was just tired. The situation would not seem so awful after a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast.
She closed the door, dropped her things by the bed, doubled up the coverlet, donned her heavy wedding dress over her boy clothes, and gingerly climbed into the bed and hoped it wouldn’t break with all the creaks and groans it made, covered herself, and tried to go to sleep.
• • •
When she awoke, it was still dark outside. She was freezing, her feet most of all. Now she was too cold to go back to sleep, too tired to find a servant, even if she knew where to look, or even get wood and make a fire herself, if she knew where that was, either. It was dark, and she was cold and tired.
She walked across the hall and knocked on the earl’s door.
The chamberlain answered the door. “Aye?” he drawled contemptuously.
“Is Lord Kyneward here?”
“He is not,” he sniffed, and slammed the door.
Of course not. He would be with one of his mistresses after so long away.
Wrapped in her coverlet, she made her way downstairs where many knights were barracked, obliging her to pick her way through them to get to the hearth. The fire was banked. She threw more wood on it because she was too tired to take it upstairs and start afresh, poked it to blazing, pulled up an upholstered chair and ottoman, plopped in it, curled up, and went to sleep.
“What the devil are you doing?”
Brìghde was fairly certain that the question was directed at her, but her eyes would not open.
“Why are you not in your chambers?”
“Cold,” she mumbled. “No blankets. No fire.”
She turned over on her hip away from the earl and mumbled, “Will see to it tomorrow.”
“Aye, you will, but for now—”
She gasped when she was jolted from her warm cocoon and swept into the earl’s arms, but he moved so fast, she had no time to ask him what he was doing before he took the stairs, bumped his door open, and dropped her on his bed. She sighed and relaxed whilst he tucked her in. She vaguely heard the earl poking his own fire to life whilst the chamberlain apologized profusely, and then felt the earl climbing into bed beside her before she finally fell asleep.